Luxury: Let them eat cake

The pandemic has negatively affected many industries including the luxury brand market. People are spending less on designer bags, clothes and accessories, and “quick-shopping” vacations to Europe have now been reduced to #throwback Instagram.

But they say change leads to invention and that’s exactly what Hermès, the French designer brand, is striving to do – reinvent their relationships with their customers in a way that goes beyond “business as usual.” The goal is to have meaningful engagement between the brand and its customers in the context of the pandemic. Since the culinary arts have grown exponentially with the confined people learning to cook, and since most people are now unable to travel to France, Hermès has brought to India a virtual taste of France.

Digging in the dough

The “Cook with Hermès” event was an exhilarating evening of culinary creativity at the gorgeous Masque Studio in Mumbai. No, there were no chic scarves or Birkin bags around, but we cooked with Chef Elizabeth Terry, Senior Pastry Chef at Hermès Kitchen, located at their headquarters at 24, Faubourg, Paris.

With the chef’s streaming video projected onto a large projector screen, one would almost forget that she was halfway around the world! It is interesting how the pandemic has upgraded communication technology, greatly reducing the need for business travel.

“Desserts should taste good and look better,” explained the little chef in French, while her colleague translated in English.

creme brulee

So what was on the menu? An unbaked simplified creme brulee of passion fruit, elegant mixed berry tart and quick almond flake (a fancy name for paper-thin wafers). As French pastries can get very technical, the menu has been curated keeping in mind the varied skill levels of the eclectic mix of participants.

Chef Elizabeth presented each step by step, slow and steady, and followed this in our well-stocked personal stations, aided by enthusiastic Masque chefs, who ensured a smooth flow of pre-measured ingredients.

The videographer masterfully maneuvered around the work counters so the chef could approve all of our efforts, correct mistakes, and save us in the worst case scenario. She was an excellent teacher and answered individual questions, observing every detail in the workspace and even making jokes along the way. The vibe was lively on both the Indian and French sides, and echoes of chaotic cacophony (in a positive way) filled the air as we dig into our dough and get our hands dirty.

dessert guide

It has been a pleasure to cook with the best local organic produce carefully sourced from different parts of India, from free range eggs to aromatic spices and seasonal succulent fruits.

What you need to know about French desserts
What you need to know about French desserts

“I am a gourmet cook, so baking the pastries was refreshing. I particularly enjoyed cooking with winter berries and working with organic fruits, healthy milk, and fresh cream,” said Sonal Ved, food writer, author and co-author.

After the effort of mixing, whisking, kneading and baking, I had the pleasure of finally sinking my teeth into the delicious desserts I made. The first bite took me straight to the pastry shops in France and their impeccable presentation of pies, eclairs, and pastries. Our families weren’t with us at the cooking stations, but we had to take the goodies home in designated boxes that ensured that the pies didn’t fall out along the way.

If this is how brands designed to engage with people globally, through food and unforgettable experiences, then I am all for it. It’s okay if you don’t buy the latest handbag or go for couture this season. Ultimately, what matters is that meaningful human connection.

Natasha Selmi is a chef and food writer. She is the author of the award-winning cookbook, Fresh and fast flavour. Its motto is smart cooking: minimal effort, maximum flavor using the freshest local produce

From HT Brunch, December 26, 2021

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